Fingerprinting a fashion word.

Fingerprint the fashionable word

The thing goes by fashions, notice all the media noise that has been organized

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with Cookies. As I did write in a previous article named (About Cookies), the “thing” is not as dangerous as they want to paint it, but it makes a lot of noise and it seems that it is the only important thing.

Remember, "the bad guys" are always looking for ways to catch you. In a world in which technology is continuously accelerating, in which advances appear so unexpectedly, it is quite normal that we need to stop at times and see what is happening, but … there is no time!

For ordinary mortals, technology advances so quickly that many times, it does not give you time to find out and it is obsolete, there are already several other inventions that replace or modify or improve what we intend to understand and make good use of.

For example, not many years ago, the idea of mobile devices was a fantasy, then a few of them appeared, which allowed us not only to talk, but to send messages too; very soon they started sending photos, then videos, then they connected to the web pages, then … The elapsed time between one change and another is, each time, shorter.

And within the technology field, the same happens. But when we mix the two fields then …

Not many months ago, the great concern of Internet users, were the famous Cookies, everyone was concerned about them, the laws (which are always late) forced all those who presented a website, to place alerts and write new codes and entire pages explaining that Cookies are used on that particular page and why they are used; all in the name of privacy or the right to it.

With the excuse of Cookies, as I say, those who create websites have had to invest a lot of effort to comply with the laws that threaten us with large fines if any individual decides to accuse us of something (which is very fashionable). The problem comes when the web page reader and the lawyer on duty, do not know or do not have sufficient knowledge about the technology they handle; In the end it is a nonsense. For example, most of the minds concerned about the subject of Cookies, see the issue as a derivative of the "right to privacy"; many users want to be able to enter websites and "not being tracked"; they want "no fingerprints" or trace of its presence there; as Cookies seemed that it was the way in which the websites identified the user, great commotion, we must fight against Cookies. But it turns out that technological advances do not stop no matter how hard the users, legislators, or both, want.

Years ago, Cookies were used for the purpose of identifying the user, because there was no other way; to summarize the matter a lot, the browsers were not very efficient, the code used was HTML3 and the users could not change many aspects of the browser that, on the other hand, only existed in the home computers; Today, any device can connect to the Internet (a computer, a phone, a clock, or a refrigerator, to name a few), the code used is HTML5 (a much more advanced version); the size of the devices (the presentation screen) is very variable; the type of device is very variable too; the user can change many of the browser settings (the size of the presentation window, the text sources, the number of colors, to name a few); so that the issue of Cookies is over.

But, remember that "the bad guys" are always looking for ways to catch you, and sometimes those "bad guys" are not necessarily bad, but are individuals or companies looking for ways to know who visits your pages, to offer you other products that can interest you, either own products or third party’s. And why is that important? Well, because this way, without having to answer a long survey, they know where you are, the configurations of your computer, your tastes, can make you offers with a great degree of success, something you want to buy. Contrary to the advertising you usually know, for example on television, which offers the same product to everyone who is watching a particular television channel, they can segment advertising to offer products that are sold to people of your own "Social position", are in your city and that are interested in the same thing as you do.

And if they do not use Cookies, how do they do it?

There are several techniques used in the world of marketing, one of which is known as «Fingerprint» or «Fingerprinting»

As its own name indicates, ton = one thousand kilos.

The word "fingerprint" stands for a technique that allows to unequivocally identifies a computer or device, just as fingerprints identify a human being.

Well, maybe not so deeply, this technique that we will call "fingerprinting" to differentiate things, try to differentiate one computer from another, but it does not reach as much detail as to achieve it, not because it can not do it, but because the devices are not as unique as fingerprints. But it allows us to differentiate groups and, that allows us the before mentioned segmentation.

The identification or "fingerprinting" is performed by asking the device’s browser, a series of characteristics; the obtained data are grouped creating profiles that will be exploited later; the obtained data are very varied and each teacher has his book; To give an example, we can cite data examples that we will then group:

The examples of results are not exhaustive, they are only a sample (6).

  • The Browser: Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome, Chromium, Brave.
  • Visualization window’s dimentions (in pixels): 340×280, 640×480, 800×1280, 768×1366, 1024×600, 1280×800.
  • Operating System: Windows, Ubuntu, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Symbian.
  • Location: USA, Spain, Argentina, Germany, Russia, China.
  • Web cam: Yes, No.
  • Microphone: Yes, No.
  • Language: English, Spanish, Spanish (AR), French, German, Chinese.

The combination of all those collected parameters, gives us an idea of the segment in which we must catalog the user, so we can know what we have to offer.

And what can we do to counter that?

Most modern browsers offer, among their set of adjustments, tools to combat these tracking systems, reaching the point of canceling them. The great disadvantage is that by canceling them, it may happen that the operation or the flow of the website is altered, so that the results obtained may not be optimal. (It is the same thing that happens when the use of Cookies is restricted).

Therefore, a proper approach would be to achieve a careful balance between user tracking and privacy. But if the use of ad blockers and browsing in private or incognito mode can not really prevent websites from generating fingerprints (or digital fingerprints in this case), what the solution can be? A potential way for those who are aware of privacy would be to disable all add-ons such as Flash, Java, WebGL and JavaScript. This would make a user’s fingerprint less identifiable, but it could result in not at all smooth navigation.

The use of privacy-oriented add-ons such as Ghostery, uBlock Origin or EFF’s Privacy Badger can also help protect users from fingerprinting techniques. A different but more practical approach would be to minimize the amount of information shared with websites and third parties, and to treat fingerprint information as personally identifiable information. This involves establishing time limits for the duration of retention and the association of this data with a user.

To avoid complete tracking, EFF recommends using the Tor browser, which not only hides the user’s location and browsing habits so they are not listened to, but also does it fingerprint-proof when sending an anonymous random user agent string (or web browser information) to the website. In addition to aggressively blocking JavaScript, it offers an option to return "pure white image data", making it resistant to the fingerprints of the canvas (canvas fingerprinting). Interestingly, the lack of browser add-ons also makes mobile browsers on iPhone and Android much more difficult to identify than their desktop counterparts. Apple, under the mandate of Steve Jobs in 2010, decided not to include Flash on their phones citing security and performance issues. Such a decision, without doubt, played a role in this case; so does Mozilla, who does not allow the use of Flash nor Java in its Firefox browser.

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